Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2018.8

Published by marco on

These are my notes to remember what I watched and kinda what I thought about it. I’ve recently transferred my reviews to IMDb and made the list of almost 1200 ratings publicly available. I’ve included the individual ratings with my notes for each movie. These ratings are not absolutely comparable to each other—I rate the film on how well it suited me for the genre and my mood and. let’s be honest, level of intoxication. YMMV. Also, I make no attempt to avoid spoilers.

Shoah: Four Sisters (2018) — 8/10

I only saw the first part, with Ruth Elias. She spoke English but I saw it with a German translation, slightly time-delayed. As a documentary, it was amazing. As a movie, it’s just a straight-on interview for 90 minutes. You only ever see her in her outdoor garden. She tells of her experience of the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. The video lent it power, but it would work fine as an audio track.

She was separated from her father, she married very young in order to stay behind and avoid the transport. She became pregnant. She was delivered to Hamburg to work, then delivered back because she was 8 months pregnant. She ended up in Auschwitz, where her child was born in absolute filth and squalor. Joseph Mengele wanted to see how long her child could survive without food. She ended up killing the child with morphine given to her by a nurse.

Only one aunt out of a whole family of 13 sisters and children and cousins survived—besides her. She’s a fascinating storyteller, so strong. It’s hard to do her story justice in a review.

Recommended. I would like to see the other parts.

Black Christmas (1974) — 7/10

Margot Kidder plays Barb, who leads a cast of sorority sisters spending Christmas at their house. They get a call from “the moaner” who slobbers out all sorts of disgusting suggestions, using language that I doubt would pass muster today. In that vein, after one of the girls suggests that the moaner might have raped someone in town, Kidder says “you can’t rape a townie”.

This film has a few other well-known names: Art Hind has been in hundreds of movies, as has John Saxon, and Keir Dullea played Dave Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This is a classic horror film from the 1974. It takes place in a sorority house. You know what’s going to happen. The killer is going to plow his way through one victim after another until there’s just one left, who kills him. There are some nice visual and audio wipes (girl’s face starts to scream and segues to a ringing phone in the next scene).

The killer takes a girl named Claire first. Claire’s father shows up and he goes with Barb to the police. Margot Kidder revels in the role, drinking and smoking all the time. She gives the sorority’s phone number to the police as on exchange “fellatio”…but the cop (Nash) has no idea what she’s talking about (it’s 1974; perhaps the word wasn’t so common then).

They dick around for a long time, with Barb putting on a spectacularly lippy, drunken show one evening. Soon after, while the whole town is searching for Claire with the police in the park, the house mother Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman) sees Claire’s cat heading up to the attic, where she finds Claire’s corpse tied to a rocking chair. The killer is still there and takes Mrs. Mac as his second victim, grunting and screaming as he rocks the corpses.

Jess has received two phone calls from the “moaner” so far. Then she argues with Peter, her dickish boyfriend—he wants to leave the conservatory and get married; she wants an abortion. He goes ballistic and tells her she’ll “be sorry”.

Against the grain, it’s Barb who’s next…and we see that it’s Peter (the guy who’s been going bonkers in a conservatory for eight years) who’s doing the killing. Or has he? Did he just flip it at the same time? He seems to be calling Jess from Barb’s room now, asking “where’s the baby” in a maniacal voice. This time, the cops trace the call and it’s coming from inside the house. Holy crap! Did that trope originate with this movie?

Of course Jess goes upstairs. She finds two of her friends stacked up on Barb’s bed like dolls, covered in gore. She gets a shot in on Peter and flees back downstairs, but then of course can’t open the front door. He almost catches her, but she escapes to the basement. Safe and sound, right? Peter finds a window without chicken-wire on it. Jess just waits for him to break it and jump through instead of going back upstairs and locking the doors while he’s outside. Jess kills Peter…but was Peter the only killer in the house?

The final scene shows “Billy” in the attic with two more bodies. The police guard the porch. A dog barks in the distance. A phone rings.

A straight-up classic. I can’t believe I’d never heard of this movie before.

Bill Hicks: Sane Man (1989) — 9/10
This is VHS footage of a live show in Austin, Texas. A lot of the material from Dangerous and Relentless were there already. He whipsaws from vulgar to transcendent. He cares a bit about the audience, but is driven to preach, to tell the people what he’s thinking. He mixes psychedelically hopeful messages with jokes about jism. He was an absolute, unvarnished genius.
Passengers (2016) — 8/10

A starship makes its way from Earth to Homestead II, a journey of 120 years. The ship is automated and beautiful in its its technological power. One quarter of the way through it’s journey, it encounters an asteroid belt (don’t ask me how, since asteroids don’t naturally occur between stars). The ship is able to avoid disaster and effect all repairs, save one: it cannot repair the hibernation pod of Jim Preston, played by Chris Pratt.

He awakes 90 years early. He acclimates, to some degree, but quickly goes nearly mad with boredom and loneliness. He latches onto an Aurora Lane (played by Jennifer Lawrence), learning everything about her that the ship offers. As an engineer, his addled mind hatches a plan to wake her. She’s perfect for him. He needs company.

He debates with himself (and with the android bartender) for a long time, but is helpless to resist the primal urge for human company—and he’s fixated on Aurora. He wakes her up and is immediately wracked with guilt. In fairness, he waited a year.

Aurora is dealing with the situation on her own, but one year delayed. She’s doing a lot of exercise in tight clothing.

Around them, the ship is slowly but surely deteriorating. It looks amazing, though; the design is lovely. The little robots that clean up are plausible.

Meanwhile they do a pretty good job of discussing their reasons for emigrating. She’s planning on going to the colony and then returning one year later, to be the only writer in 250 years who’d been to a colony. Unless, of course, faster travel options become available. Or Earth is no longer the center of civilization. But neither of them mentions that.

The “falling in love” bit is depicted in languorous detail, which is fine, I guess. He made her fall in love with him—though he does offer quite a bit. His only crime is that he doomed her to a life of solitude with only him. A pretty large crime, granted. When she learns what he did, things get interesting again. She yells that “he took her life”. It’s true: she’s dead, for all practical purposes. He killed her, but she lives on. There are some existential issues—why write? Why jog? Why do anything? It’s a decent science-fiction short-story treatise.

The ship continues to slowly deteriorate. His room reboots. The elevator stops at the wrong floor. The food dispenser spits out a ton of cereal, all over the floor. A crew member Mancuso (Laurence Fishburne) awakes and they start to gather data manually to diagnose the issue. Aurora wants him to arrest Jim—or something like that.

At one point, the whole ship shuts down, including lights and gravity, then reboots before Aurora drowns in the now-floating pool.

Mancuso dies. Jim and Aurora find the problem—a meteorite cut through a fusion-reactor control computer. Jim repairs it, but the reactor can’t be vented because the outer doors are, of course, jammed. Jim’s gotta go out there. You might think that we’re seeing a macho/patriarchal split, but if you bother to look a bit more deeply, you’ll see: Aurora and her writing is the only thing that kept Jim sane enough to be able to use his engineering skills to fix the ship. They’re a team. One doesn’t function without the other. It’s fine.

The door is jammed and can only be held open manually. Cool. he’s got his heat shield—and the tether snaps. Jim’s floating around in space and his suit’s leaking. It’s odd that the suits don’t have even rudimentary maneuvering jets. She gets him inside. I like that he seems heavy. He’s dead, Jim. She uses everything the autodoc has to resuscitate him.

She forgave him—because what else are you going to do? He’s the only other human being around. Put yourself in her shoes for more than just a few weeks. What would you really do? Kill him? And then what? I expanded on these thoughts in the article, On not seeing or understanding context.

It was a solid SF story with excellent acting. Recommended.

Sorry to Bother You (2018) — 9/10

Lakeith Stansfield plays Cassius Green, a guy so down on his luck that he buys gas $0.40 at a time. His girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) is an artist. He lives in his uncle’s (Terry Crews) garage and drives a hand-me-down car from same. The car’s a piece of shitwork: the wipers have a string attached, to let the passenger pull them back and forth.

Cassius tries to lie his way into a telemarketing job—and gets it despite his lies because they’ll hire anybody. On his first day on the job, he starts making calls. In his mind, he’s transported with his desk to the home of each person he calls. On the second day, Langston (Danny Glover) tells him to use his “white voice”. Next up is Squeeze (Stephen Yeun), who tries to get Cassius into a union (of sorts).

Cassius has a reputation for melancholy; after he picks her up from work (sign-twirler on a street corner), Detroit asks him, “baby, can we please not talk about the sun exploding tonight?” They head out to a bar and he tries out his white voice when he declares a toast: it’s David Cross.

In the background, we hear about Worryfree industries, a weird employment plan that sounds a lot like slavery, run by Steve Lift (Armand Hammer). This has a bit of an Idiocracy feel to it—without being 500 years in the future.

Cassius and his white voice are promoted to the upper floor—where “power callers” work. Diana DeBauchery (floor manager, played by Kate Berlant; unaware of her name’s connotation) is immediately taken with Cassius. The code to unlock the elevator is ludicrously long. Stanfield plays an interesting character, beaten down a bit. The first power caller he meets is played by Omari Hardwick and voiced by Patton Oswalt.

Squeeze is definitely a union organizer. When Detroit asks him “is that what you do? Go around starting trouble?”, he responds “trouble’s already there. I just help folks fix it.”

Obviously, Cassius’s new job is to sell Worryfree slave labor. When he raises an initial objection, they show him his starting salary. He nails his job, gets a new apartment, a Maserati. The picture of his father keeps changing to fit the situation.

Squeeze and Detroit’s strike grows in power. Cassius scabs across the line every day. Detroit leaves him. He’s sold out. He accuses her of selling out because she’s trying to sell her art to rich people. He, on the other hand, is selling slave labor.

Cassius now meets with Steve Lift for another promotion. Cassius uses the restroom first—and finds the next generation of slave labor: equisapiens. This is the straw that breaks the camel’s back? As the video says, “Our scientists have discovered a way to make humans stronger, more obedient, more durable and, therefore, more efficient and profitable.” Lift’s proposal is that Cassius becomes an equisapien for 5 years for 100 million bucks.

Detroit sees a video of the equisapiens and starts to use her art to get the word out. Cassius does too, going on one show after another, telling the world about what WorryFree is doing. Little does he know that he’s actually doing exactly the marketing they wanted him to do. WorryFree stock goes through the roof.

Cassius revolts and organizes an even bigger strike. They seem to have turned the tide, until the police show up and start to run down demonstrators. Then the equisapiens show up and turn the tide again.

Detroit’s performance-art piece is spectacular. There’s a tremendous amount of detail in this movie. A second viewing would probably show much more. Highly recommended.

The Lathe of Heaven (1980) — 8/10

This is the filming of the book that I read this year, reviewed here. The film starts with George Orr waking up from a dream in which the world had been destroyed by nuclear war. He wakes to a world in which this has not happened. Basically, George has “effective” dreams, wherein he changes the world. Dr. Haber is his oenerologist. It slowly dawns on Haber that George isn’t crazy or deluded, but actually does move himself to new timelines. George remembers the old world, as do the people near him when he dreams.

Once Haber sees that George is the real deal, he decides to use George to improve his own life. In effect, Haber uses George as a timeline-hopping machine, using his Augmentor machine and suggestions to drive his power. He invents a whole new dream institute for himself. George seems to be helpless in his clutches. Haber deftly handles his objections—dangling the carrot of “getting well” before him.

Eventually, Orr dreams of aliens invading the planet—to unite humanity and stop war. The aliens, however, not only attack the moon, but also invade Orr’s dreams, making contact and letting him know that they know of effective dreams. Haber is dangerous to them; Orr is not.

Haber continues to manipulate and has Orr eliminate racism (everyone is now gray), then to dream that he no longer has effective dreams, that the Augmentor inherits Orr’s power instead—and can confer it to Haber directly. This is a story of a technocrat who sees everything as a tool. George still has his power and re-imagines himself back with Heather (the lawyer). After a lovely reunion (for him, anyway; for her, nothing’s changed), they feel the world coming apart under Haber’s first attempt at effective dreaming.

The art direction is a little off: it’s supposed to be 105ºF outside, but everyone’s walking around in long pants and long sleeves. The world is empty of people—or starkly reduced—but everything’s still clean. The institute is a giant building, but built by whom? With which materials? The tech is quaint—still very analog. The sets and buildings are quite nice, though.

The acting’s decent—basically 3 people—but the book is better. It does a decent job of capturing such a high-minded concept.

The Death of Stalin (2017) — 8/10

Armando Iannucci (writer of Veep) delivers a biting satire of the end of the Stalin era. None of the actors has a Russian accent. None of them even attempts to speak in a vernacular appropriate to the 1950s. Most of them have heavy British accents, with Jeffrey Tambor (Malenkov and Steve Buscemi (Kruschev) weighing in with American ones.

I find it mystifying how critics could take a film that’s just an eyelash shy of being a Monty Python parody seriously enough to criticize its lack of historical accuracy and depth. This is a very funny movie about the turmoil that follows the death of an all-powerful leader of a totalitarian state. It’s Iannucci, so it’s a dialogue-driven vehicle with almost no action. Most of the scenes take place in sumptuous offices and residences.

The main tension is between Beria (Simon Russell Beale) and Kruschev. Beria is in charge of the NKVD (the secret police) and is much-feared among all cabinet members. The funeral for Stalin is planned and executed while Kruschev slowly gathers support for a putsch of Beria, who is spiraling out of control, power-mad.

Kruschev yells “I will bury you in history” at Beria’s corpse. For one, it’s true—very few people remember who Beria was and what he did. For another, this is the phrase for which Kruschev was to become famous. When he said it in a speech, he meant that communism would outlast capitalism as a concept. The full quote is,

“About the capitalist states, it doesn’t depend on you whether or not we exist. If you don’t like us, don’t accept our invitations, and don’t invite us to come to see you. Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you!”

Western governments and media—as expected—took it as a threat of nuclear war (because they not only still are, but always have been, incapable of nuance). The statement is obviously not belligerent, other than to accuse the West of a corrupt way of life that will lose in the end. And he will have been right, I think. Capitalism will bury itself in climate change and only socialism can rise from those ashes.

I loved this movie—so many good actors and so much snappy dialogue. Michael Palin was wonderful as Molotov, Rupert Friend as Stalin’s besotted son and Jason Isaacs as Marshal Zhukov were all great. Recommended.

Duck Soup (1933) — 8/10

Groucho Marx plays Rufus T. Firefly, newly elected president of Freedonia. The president of Sylvania wants to take over that country, but Rufus’s nomination thwarts his efforts. The rest of the Marx brothers play spies and other court attendants. Most of the dialogue is one-liners and sight gags. Some of the jokes are pretty damned rimshot-worthy—I bet they were original back in 1933.

Firefly: What are you going to do as secretary of war?

Chicolino: I think we’re going to have a standing army.

Firefly: Why a standing army?

Chicolino: ‘Cause then we save a ton of money on chairs.”

They’re still good: lovely timing and delivery. I’d never up until now noticed that Groucho’s mustache and eyebrows were painted on.

The intrigue between the two countries continues, with two women—Vera Marcal (Raquel Torres) and Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont). The action culminates in Mrs. Teasdale’s mansion. All of the Marx brothers now dress up as Rufus Firefly. All of the door handles in the mansion are European style, not doorknobs. Checking IMDb reveals that the film was shot in Spain.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Harpo Marx was playing an especially malicious, mentally handicapped man. His “missing mirror” scene with Groucho was brilliant, though.

The war scenes are pretty good; the four brothers change uniforms every scene—Groucho goes from Johnny Reb to Union to Napoleon to Daniel Boone.

I gave it an extra star for being entertaining while being almost a hundred years old—and for some of the one-liners, damned if they didn’t make me laugh out loud.[1] I see where Mel Brooks got the directorial inspiration for some of his larger set pieces.

Locke (2014) — 8/10

Tom Hardy stars in this alone (he’s the only one on-screen). He is Ivan Locke, an exceedingly honest man who’s done one dishonest thing. He is a clockwork of a man. He is dependable, he is extremely good at his job. He is a loving father and husband. He is very precise in his language and will not mis-speak. He is a man of his profession: concrete.

He is on a dark highway at night, driving to be there for the birth of his bastard.

The entire film takes place in the car, with him on the phone with various people: his boss, his wife, the mother of his bastard, various people from the hospital, his assistant at work, his son.

He is a concrete expert, by trade. The biggest job of his life is set to start pouring at 05:45 the next morning. It is currently 21:00 the previous evening. He is walking his assistant through the preparations. There are road closings to manage. There is the matter of a folder full of numbers that he has mistakenly taken with him.

His wife is imploding at the news. She doesn’t care about anything else at this moment. She has no idea how many millions of pounds she’s cost by hanging up the phone in spite. In her mind, she’s 100% right. But she’s missing context. The timing is exceedingly and exquisitely bad.

His lover is an emotional mess who’s trying to get him to admit he loves her (despite their having had only a one-night stand and no further contact). The baby has its umbilical cord wrapped around its neck. Locke is clearly getting a cold and getting worse.

He keeps driving. He keeps answering the phone. He’s trying to keep all the balls in the air, the way he always has. He really wants to be there for his bastard in a way that his own father never was (he’s never met him). And he would love not to lose his family. But it’s the concrete-pour that’s the most important to him. He and his reputation and his assistant manage to get the pour back on track.

In between acts, he soliloquies to his absent father in the back seat. It is a double birth that night, for Mr. Ivan Locke. It is also a night of loss for him. Chicago (headquarters) is going mad because they are afraid that the job will fail. Locke does not care. He’s got a restricted context, just like his wife. His wife is ready to let everything burn because of what Ivan did. She doesn’t care about the pour. Ivan cares about the pour, but he doesn’t care about what Chicago cares about.

Tom Hardy is masterful. Recommended.

The Putin Interviews E01 (2017) — 8/10

Oliver Stone interviews Vladimir Putin about his life, his career and his politics in this 4-part mini-series. The interviews take place over the span of over two years, from June 2015 to September 2017.

When asked about the 5 assassination attempts, Putin responded,

Putin: We have a saying in Russia: The man destined to be hanged is not going to drown.”

He’s obviously a very intelligent and mentally agile man. He is capable of abstract thinking and quite creative in his speech. He’s well-organized, well-disciplined. He’s very much in control and rational. He often corrects Stone for not having been precise enough in a summation leading up to a question.[2]

When asked whether he ever got emotional, he said “I’m not a woman, so I don’t have those times”, a primitive answer, but not unusual for a 66-year–old man.

When Stone compared his job to the job Reagan had, Putin says, “There is a big difference between almost being broke and actually being broke.” He’s on top of the economic figures of Russia—he has no paper in front of him. He is also very much a man of the law—and getting things right. He talks about paying back debts as if this is unavoidable.

Honestly, Oliver Stone kind of sounds like a moron. I like his movies, but he really doesn’t come off well in this interview (so far).

Putin is very much aware of the way the U.S. works. He blames Gorbachev for not having gotten in writing the agreement not to expand NATO. He knows that NATO is searching for an enemy, that it “is a mere instrument of foreign policy of the U.S.. It has no allies, it has only vassals.”

Putin has dealt with Clinton, Bush, Obama and now Trump. He rightly sees no difference in essential policy. As he put it,

“And there is one curious thing: the president of your country can change, but the policy doesn’t change … on matters of principle.”
Another exchange:

Stone: The question is: what is the policy of the U.S. What is its strategy in the world?
Putin: I will answer this question very candidly and in great detail, but only once I retire.”

Stone then says what he thinks: that the U.S. is trying to cripple Russia economically until it folds and complies. Putin responds that this is not a very forward-thinking policy. He says that the Russian people cannot exist outside of their own sovereign state (similar self-myth that most countries have) and that the way forward is to support them instead of opposing. Then he adds that the U.S. could save a lot of money on their defense budget.[3]


[1] See Duck Soup quotes (IMDb) or Groucho Marx quotes (Good Reads) for more examples.
[2]

As to criticisms about the “softball” nature of the questions—those mostly come from people who were not granted an interview with Putin. When you consider how vetted and scripted every conversation on American TV is, why even pretend to be shocked that a Putin interview was restricted by certain boundaries? At least Stone left in pretty obvious cuts where material had been removed (of which there were a few).

Verne Gay of the Newsday wrote very insightfully,

“As journalism, this is scattershot at best, but as a conversation that covers a vast span of Russian history, culture, and politics as refracted through the mind of Russia’s president — it’s often remarkable. Putin has a lot to say. Stone lets him say it. While the many points he makes are impossible to summarize here, Putin’s motives for this interview are not: He emerges as an intelligent, sane, reasonable leader caught in the vortex of an occasionally feckless, often contradictory superpower called the United States. Touché. (Emphasis added.)”

It’s really f%$&ing hard to disagree on that point.

[3] Russia has cut defense spending in the last two years, once by 20% (as noted in the interview The brittle pilot: Understanding Putin’s hand in post-Soviet Russia. by Tony Wood (This is Hell!)